Japan faces new virus crisis, three months before Olympics

Tokyo on Thursday recorded 861 new infections, figures not seen since January, while Osaka logged 1,167 cases, slightly down from a record number a day earlier.


Japan’s government is to declare virus states of emergencies in Tokyo and three other regions on Friday, exactly three months before the Olympic opening ceremony, as new infections surge.

The measures will be stricter than Japan’s last state of emergency, imposed in parts of the country from January, but still fall short of the harsh lockdowns seen in some parts of the world.

“We have a strong sense of crisis,” Japan’s minister for virus response Yasutoshi Nishimura said Friday.

The measures will ask businesses serving alcohol to shut or stop serving alcohol between April 25 to May 11, and also shutter major commercial facilities such as shopping malls and department stores.

An official declaration of the emergency is expected later Friday – with the measure expected to cover Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo regions initially.

Previous emergencies have been expanded to other areas after being announced, and experts say the term may be extended if the spread of the virus continues.

“We will take strong, brief and focused emergency measures,” said top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato, calling restaurants “key points of infection” after an expert advisory panel endorsed the proposal.

The measure will coincide with the annual Golden Week holiday, Japan’s busiest travel period. It could involve cutting some train and bus services to discourage movement.

Slow vaccine rollout

Authorities in affected regions are also likely to bar spectators from sports events — but officials have been insistent that the emergency measures will have no impact on staging the Olympics.

Although the measures won’t start until Sunday, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike urged citizens to start observing them right away.

Japan has seen a comparatively small Covid-19 outbreak, with fewer than 10,000 deaths despite never imposing the strict lockdowns seen in other countries.

But cases surged over winter and have rebounded after the previous state of emergency was lifted in March.

Tokyo on Thursday recorded 861 new infections, figures not seen since January, while Osaka logged 1,167 cases, slightly down from a record number a day earlier.

Authorities in Osaka have said health facilities there are already overwhelmed, with beds for seriously ill patients running short.

Japan’s vaccine programme is moving slowly meanwhile, with just over 1.5 million people given a first shot and only around 827,000 fully vaccinated.

Only the Pfizer vaccine has so far been approved, and approvals for the Moderna and AstraZeneca formulas are not expected before May at the earliest.

Taro Kono, the minister in charge of Japan’s vaccine rollout, said requests from local authorities for vaccine doses from May 10 had exceeded planned supply.

“I am sorry. There has been an overflow” of demand, Kono said Thursday, adding that a higher-than-expected uptake could result in swift vaccination of Japan’s elderly.

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